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Dominic Trumfio

Chicago Theater Musician Creates Art in Every Color of the Rainbow

Musicians often don’t wind up where they started when embarking on a chosen career path. And sometimes the place they wind up is even more fulfilling than the one they imagined. As a high school flutist, Chicago native Dominic Trumfio of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) might not have imagined himself as music director of a drag show—but now he can’t imagine it any other way. 

It was a journey to get to that point, starting back in seventh grade as a saxophone player who found himself fascinated with the flute. “I was reluctant to change, though,” Trumfio recalls. “Boys in the school band just didn’t play flute.” But when Trumfio started high school, he saw some of the older guys indeed playing it. And that cemented it. “My older brothers were in jazz band, and some of their friends played flute, often as a double. I decided there and then that it was what I wanted to do.” 

Trumfio says he was drawn to the qualities and colors the flute adds to an orchestral texture. “It’s like the icing on the cake, especially in musical theater, where it has the job of playing solo and blending with the singers.” He was a quick study, advancing to the principal chair in high school. Northwestern University was where he began to explore his theater fascination. “Even early on, theater pit work was something I sought out, through connections at Northwestern,” he says. In 2000, he got a call to go on the road, touring for three years with Les Miserables. “It was one of the last remaining shows that toured with a full orchestra, all around the world. Back in Chicago, that gave me the credentials to play shows here on a higher level.” 

A multifaceted career has made Trumfio a commodity in Chicago’s musical theater scene on flute, saxophone, clarinet, recorders, pennywhistles, and a wide variety of other wind instruments. “My advantage is being a flutist who also plays clarinet and sax,” he says. “Typically it’s the other way around—a reed player doubling on flute. And that’s a hard switch.” 

These days, theater orchestra pits are where Trumfio does the bulk of his work. His many dozens of credited shows include Idina Menzel in concert, Ragtime, La Cage Aux Folles with George Hamilton, the 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables, and the opening of the Shrek The Musical national tour. He has also taken part in world premieres, including Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and The Bowery Boys. “It’s a wonderful way to make a living,” he says. Asked the usual pit orchestra question about how he copes with the repetition, he confesses that he actually embraces it. “Playing a show multiple times becomes like a ritual, so it actually ties in with the repetition of liturgical music.” He adds that it also feels connected to Yoga, of which he is both a devotee and instructor. 

Out of the Pit and into the Choir 

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, including theaters, Trumfio found himself leaning further into his church work—largely choral conducting, another strong interest stemming from junior high school. “I first got involved with church music as a Confirmation service project,” he recalls. “I played flute and piano and took over accompaniment duties for my church’s choir. Ultimately I wound up putting myself partly through college as the assistant director at a Chicago church.” Trumfio also did church music course work at Northwestern, studying organ, choral conducting, and liturgy. “So, the choral conducting really grew alongside my flute performance degree. But I’ve always approached conducting from an instrumentalist’s point of view, meaning I try to keep good beat patterns and give clear cues.” 

After graduation from Northwestern University, he got a full-time church music director job, along with theater pit work. Trumfio says his faith has always been his inspiration and support, even when he was dealing with his sexual orientation. “It kept me on my path. I was aware of the prevailing church dogma, but that never deterred me.” He acknowledges the reality that some churches (and indeed some denominations) don’t accept LGBTQ+ people. “On the other hand, Old St. Patrick’s, where I am currently associate music director, has an LGBTQ+ ministry,” he says. In fact, the church recently rolled out a vision statement on inclusion, and constantly advocates for the modernization of the Catholic Church as a whole. “Dragging a 2,000-year-old institution into the 21st century isn’t an easy job,” he laughs. “But Old St. Pat’s is acknowledged to be on the leading edge. It’s a joy to work here, being the change that the church needs, and leading by example. We show people that this is what the modern Catholic Church can look like.” 

Onto the Stage 

Trumfio first got involved with “Kiki Queens,” a charity drag show in Chicago, through his husband Brandon, who works in the tech field but also likes to perform. “Brandon is a makeup artist, and he directs photo shoots. He was always interested in the art of drag,” Trumfio says. Brandon met many like-minded people during his time in a local gay men’s chorus. Unlike other drag performances, no one lip syncs. It’s all live. Another major difference, says Trumfio, is the Kiki Queens’ mission of giving back to the community. “Everyone involved with these productions is a volunteer, and every dime goes to local LGBTQ+ nonprofits.” To date, after three years, Kiki Queens have donated more than $75,000. 

As the show’s music director, Trumfio prepares the singers—who typically sport pun-based drag names like Nita Bevvy and Izzie Contagious—during an eight-week prep period. “I’ll help the performers find arrangements in keys that work best for them, and then my role is vocal coach.” Since all the performers have come from local choirs, they naturally enjoy the art of singing together. “I’m also their pianist, so I help from the keyboard,” he adds. “Occasionally, I’ll even get to use my woodwind skills.” 

Becoming music director of a drag show is not particularly something he saw himself doing as a high school flutist at Interlochen music camp. “Drag queens used to scare me,” he laughs. “In a typical drag show, they go after who they see as easy marks.” Their targets are subjected to good-natured—and hilariously cutting—teasing and banter. “But in reality, they have such big hearts, and they’re filled with generosity.” Trumfio says he feels lucky to have a career in music, and it gives him the opportunity to give back. “And the performers in Kiki Queens share this same drive to contribute to their community.” 

The Kiki Queens are also conscious of not drawing work away from “career” drag queens. “We’re a totally philanthropic endeavor. And so many people in Chicago, sometimes from surprising quarters, have been drawn to Kiki Queens and are now firm supporters. Some of my church congregation members even attend shows. My older white Reaganomics father is actually one of the biggest fans, and he loves supporting our mission,” says Trumfio. 

From Drag Shows to Union Shows 

Trumfio believes his biggest lesson from the pandemic has been the importance of having multiple income streams and diversified work. “The theater world was decimated for a year and a half. That was a wakeup call,” he says. “People need to stay open to other opportunities. But I’m lucky because this is how my career has always gone. My typical Sunday will be two masses in the morning, then a matinee and evening show in the orchestra pit. Musical multitasking keeps our skills sharp.” 

Among the many dozens of shows Trumfio has played in the orchestra pits of Chicago’s award-winning Broadway and regional theaters, his last show—before Kiki Queens, and before COVID-19—was Phantom of the Opera. Like so many touring productions, Phantom employed a reduced orchestra. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing more single-instrument chairs becoming part of a doubling book, or sequenced into and even replaced by the keyboards,” he observes. “Shrinking pit sizes in theaters are a nationwide trend and a growing problem. It’s at the forefront of our minds here in Chicago.” 

To that end, the issue has been taken up by the Chicago area chapter of the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), a player conference of the AFM. The TMA works closely with the AFM on issues specific to theater musicians, whether local, on Broadway, or on tour. Trumfio is a director of the Chicago area chapter. “We recently got a resolution passed and are working in conjunction with Local 10-208 on contract language defining parameters about what producers can and can’t do when shows come into town,” he says. “It’s not an official bylaw yet, but it’s a victory, helping producers understand and acknowledge that these are real jobs, and musicians’ livelihoods are being cut.” 

Trumfio works in close conjunction with violinist Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208, president of the Chicago TMA chapter and vice president of the National TMA. “Heather has been deeply involved on the national level with the AFM,” he adds. The goal, both locally and nationally, is to preserve playing jobs—and careers. As a TMA board member, Trumfio ensures there is theater representation in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Trumfio is eager to see what happens when theaters come back post-COVID. “My hope is that all contracts will come back full force. But no matter what, the TMA is and will remain the voice of advocacy.” 

To keep up with Dominic Trumfio’s activities, visit www.dominictrumfio.com
To contribute to Kiki Queens’ charitable mission, visit www.kikiqueens.org

AFM Members Take Action Together to Secure a Healthy Pension Fund

In February, more than 85 AFM members participated in the union’s first legislative advocacy phone bank, reaching out to fellow musicians in congressional districts key to the future of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.

The AFM Organizing and Education Department worked with AFM player conferences to engage members of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA) to join in the legislative department’s targeted Zoom phone banking campaign to make sure key committee members would support the inclusion of pension relief in the upcoming reconciliation package. In all, over 1,000 of our brothers and sisters in targeted districts across the country were contacted by volunteer callers. 

Zoom phone banking brings volunteers together online at the same time for a quick educational introduction to the purpose of calling and offers instructions on completing the call list sheets. Callers, while on mute, remain on Zoom feeling connected to the group action, and can reach out to staff with any questions.

“This was a great way to connect to our union brothers and sisters around the country, even as we can’t make music together,” said Heather Boehm, member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). “When we raise our voices collectively, we cut through the noise and ensure musicians are heard by decision-makers and protect our ability to retire in dignity.”

Violinist Mei Chang, Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), joined several virtual phone banking sessions. “The camaraderie in the Zoom was great and made calling people I didn’t know much easier,” said Chang. “I am inspired to continue doing advocacy on behalf of my fellow working musicians, and hope more of us can join in on the effort.”

The AFM-Employers Pension Fund is one of over 100 multiemployer union pensions in critical status because of aging demographics, declining participation, and reduced contributions. The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 outlines solutions to help solve shortcomings in multiemployer pension plans and protect our retirement and the retirement of tens of thousands of our fellow musicians.

Screenshot of one of the more than 20 AFM organized volunteer Zoom phone bank sessions conducted in February and March.

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra Works to Increase Diversity Through Youth Music Program

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO) will launch the Annapolis Symphony Academy this fall, providing music instruction and ensemble training for middle and high school students. With a goal that half of enrolled students come from Hispanic and African-American backgrounds, this new initiative will help promote and increase diversity in American orchestras. For half of all enrolled students, all program costs will be funded by scholarships based on financial need.

The orchestra hopes that in the long term, increased access to musical instruction for minority groups will lead to increased diversity on professional orchestra stages and in orchestra audiences. The academy program also meets a local need for more intensive individual instruction in Anne Arundel County, as well as a need to keep students engaged in music throughout their middle and high school years. A generous grant from Jane Campbell-Chambliss and Peter Chambliss will cover the majority of expenses for the first six years.

Aside from individual lessons, students will attend small ensemble coaching, guest artist workshops, ASO concerts, and more. The program will be led by ASO concertmaster Netanel Draiblate of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) and Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). The majority of instructors will be ASO musicians. Students are auditioning for 20 string spots in the first year; ASO expects to expand the program each subsequent year.

Elgin Symphony Emergency Fundraising Succeeds

Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO), whose musicians are represented by Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL), implemented an aggressive fundraising campaign, raising more than $140,000 to cover costs for the 2017-2018 season. The amount above the $140,000 mark will go toward the 2018-2019 season and an endowment.

ESO stated that it needed $140,000 in order to pay this season’s bills and begin planning next season. The orchestra first saw a potential financial shortfall in November and December 2017, when anticipated funding sources did not materialize. The orchestra’s final concerts of the season, in early May will go on as scheduled.

garry pressy

Out of the Ball Park: Organist Plays the Big League

garry pressy

At his organ in the press booth at Wrigley Field, Gary Pressy of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) shows off his 2016 World Series ring.

Gary Pressy of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) enjoys a seat at Chicago Cubs games like no other player. From his perch in the press booth overlooking Wrigley Field, the Cubs organist, since 1987, has played 2,446 consecutive games without missing a beat.

For Pressy, 59, playing the sonorous organ at Wrigley Field is a dream come true. From the time he was a kid, he knew it was exactly what he wanted to do. He became fascinated with the sound of the organ when he was a just five years old. “I’d listen to games and in the background, you’d hear the organ. My mother says I’d be in the backyard humming the national anthem and ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’”

After years of instruction, including private lessons with local teacher and mentor Russ Caifano, Pressy started playing the organ for Loyola basketball, all the while sending out his resume to teams in Chicago that he knew employed organists. Sports executive John McDonough finally responded. At the time, he was working for the pro soccer team, the Chicago Sting, and he hired Pressy to play. When the time came for the Cubs to hire a full-time organist, McDonough recommended Pressy. “I had my eyes set on one job, and I got lucky. This was always my goal,” says Pressy.

Pressy arrives a few hours before game time. He does his research and brushes up on new songs, but says the standards are crowd pleasers. “I spread the songs around. I won’t play to one generation: Lady Gaga and Sinatra. I don’t want people to scratch their heads, but they’ve got to be catchy tunes,” he explains.

To adjust and time the music, he follows the game as closely as any announcer. “When players come on field, it’s got to come from the top of your head, it’s spontaneous. If the Cubs have players on first and third, I’ll play the song, ‘Down on the Corner.’” Years ago, he’d even supply trivia—this day in Cubs history.

The seventh-inning stretch is the hallmark of the Cubs’ home games, which began when longtime Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” After his death in 1998, the Cubs continued the tradition, but with guest conductors leading the crowd.

It all starts out with “Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!” And celebrities from every walk of life have been featured: politicians, athletes, and musicians, like diehard fan Eddie Vedder of Local 76-493 (Seattle, WA) and Ozzie Osborne. In game three of the 2016 World Series, Bill Murray famously performed his rendition as Daffy Duck.

Pressy says, “We have so much fun with the live guests. When these guys come in here, they shed the celebrity persona; it’s pure fan, and just shows their amorous relationship with game of baseball.” 

When former Major League player Dave Collins came to sing, Pressy (a huge Boston Celtics fan) says they talked Celtic basketball and reminisced. “All these people are so down to earth. It’s their honor to do it,” he says. After last year’s win, Pressy was on stage playing at Grant Park. “The parade must have had 5 million people. It was a glorious day weather-wise and for a Cub’s fan.”   

The Cubs became the first major league team to install an organ at the ballpark in 1941. Roy Nelson played the pregame program to entertain the crowd, but it was short-lived and the organ would not return permanently to Wrigley Field until 1967.

Organ players are a tight-knit group and Pressy says he’s had the privilege of meeting greats like Fenway Park organist John Kiley and Ernie Hayes of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pressy’s longtime friend and White Sox organist, Nancy Faust of Local 10-208, started the now legendary “Na-Na-Na-Na, Na-Na-Na-Na, Hey, Hey, Good Bye.”

By his own admission, baseball is a hobby that got out of hand. He’s got audio recordings of 250 baseball games from the 1960s and 1970s, plus Boston Celtics games. Pressy says, “I like to listen to those games driving back and forth to the games, fighting traffic. It’s just something I really enjoy. You can hear the organ in the background,” He adds, “Someday, I’d like to write a book about the history of games.”

Pressy joined the union in 1978, which among other things—benefits and pension—initially helped him get a credit card. Of his famous association with a World Series winning team, he says, “I’m just a guy who’s earning a living.”